Wind project holds promise for tribe

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 4, 2011

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Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has announced the Salt River Project as its first utility customer for an 85-megawatt wind project at the Big Boquillas Ranch.

The announcement comes one year after the Navajo Nation Council and former President Joe Shirley Jr. granted approval for NTUA, an enterprise of the Navajo Nation, and Edison Mission Energy to develop a wind project at Big Bo, which is located 80 miles west of Flagstaff.

Called the Boquillas Wind Project, it is an effort by NTUA to bring power to the nation.

"This project was conceived with the goal to develop and introduce an energy economy for the Navajo Nation that will directly benefit the Navajo people," said Walter Haase, NTUA's general manager. "With this project, the process has started."

The wind project is the first of its kind to be majority owned by any tribe or tribal enterprise. NTUA has a 51 percent ownership share of the project and Edison Mission of Irvine, Calif., has 49 percent ownership.

In October 2010, NTUA and Edison entered into an agreement to jointly develop, build and operate the project at Big Bo, which is considered one of the best wind resources in Arizona.

"The real strategy is to help the nation with the resources it owns," said Terry Battiest, NTUA's renewable engineer. "NTUA is looking to see that the benefit comes back (to the nation)."

The wind project is projected to cost just under $200 million to construct. It would employ 300 to 350 people during construction and employ 8-10 people with permanent jobs when construction of the wind farm is complete.

A 25-year contract is currently being negotiated among the parties, which would allow SRP to purchase 100 percent of the electricity generated from the project.

The wind project, whose contract calls for the delivery of energy to SRP by Dec. 21, 2012, would provide energy to about more than 19,000 residential homes in the Phoenix area.

"If agreed to, our customers will benefit from a wind resource with zero-fuel costs and zero emissions while the state and Navajo Nation will benefit from jobs needed to build and operate this facility in Arizona," said John Coggins, SRP's manger of Resource Planning and Development.

Under SRP's Sustainable Portfolio, it must secure sustainable and renewable energy resources to meet 20 percent of its energy needs by 2020.

Pedro Pizzaro, president of Edison's parent company, Edision Mission Group, said: "This first-of-its-kind business relationship can increase the use of renewable power and help Native American nations expand their economic base."

"The majority of the power will go to SRP's customers, which is required to make the project viable as it will bring outside dollars to the Navajo Nation, i.e, establishing an energy economy," said Deenise Becenti, NTUA's public affairs officer. "That's the bigger picture because we as a nation will own and sell a commodity that others need and want."

On the Navajo Nation, both Battiest and Haase said, the project would provide energy for between 1,200 and 2,400 Navajo homes, depending on the amount of megawatts purchased from SRP.

According to Battiest, NTUA anticipates to purchase 5 to 10 megawatts for the benefit of its customers.

In addition, Haase said, Navajo families would directly benefit from the project when NTUA rebuilds, expands and extends its current output across the 27,000-square-mile reservation and surrounding communities.

At its current output, NTUA provides electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater treatment, renewable energy and telecommunications services to about 40,000 customers.

Approximately $19 million would be generated over the 25-year lease period for the Navajo Nation.

Community improvement projects are one of the ways the Navajo people will directly benefit from the wind project, Haase added.

Lease and tax payments would also be paid to the state of Arizona for 25 years.

Construction of the wind project will begin as soon as the power-purchase agreement and permit and construction approvals from federal, state and local agencies are completed.

President Ben Shelly said NTUA's efforts in developing the first green generation project on the reservation is important to the Navajo economy.

"This is a first step towards self-sufficiently and it follows the framework of our proposed Navajo Energy Policy," Shelly said.

Anna Rondon, chair of the Navajo Nation Green Jobs Commission, agrees. "This project demonstrates that partnerships are key and crucial in planning for renewable energy resource development and management," Rondon said. "I hope NTUA is coordinating the training for these green jobs."

"For example, our own Navajo Workforce Development program could pay for 'Windsmith' training at Navajo Technical College," she said.

Rondon added that coordinating a comprehensive approach would be beneficial to Navajo businesses to help with the construction of the project.

"This is a great opportunity for the youth," she said. "It opens the door for the local schools to go to a wind farm that is owned by the tribe, and say that this energy generation is helping to pay for further development as well as helping our Mother Earth," added LeVon Thomas, 24, the youth representative on the green commission.

Overall, both commissioners said this an excellent example of working together and an opportunity for the youth to learn from these projects because they will be ones building, developing, and maintaining similar projects in the future.

"It has a strong ripple effect," Haase said, adding that the wind project is much-needed infrastructure and a catalyst for building an economy.

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